Duel

Pholius Primus, barefoot in a loose fitting tunic and long trousers, stepped calmly from the airlock of the Queen Comet into the cold vacuum of space. Staring into the inky blackness of the void, he reached with an outstretched hand and called it to him. The darkness began to coalesce around his chiseled body, slowly forming pauldrons, greaves, a cuirass, until Pholius was fully incased in midnight armor.  From the glow of a distant star, Pholius created a shining blade, six feet long and sharp as light.

A short distance away Pholius's opponent had created a set of plate and an axe from the orange light of the sun beyond. Behind him, like the one behind Pholius, was a massive battleship, the Supernova.  Both ships were in rough shape, heavily scarred across their hulls by extensive laser blasts.

"Pholius."  The other knight nodded in greeting as he floated close, using his sorcery to transmit his words mentally. Space remained silent.

"Gallun."  Pholius returned the nod.

"Why have you called this parlay?" Gallun asked.

"You seem to have taken extensive damage."

"And you have not?"  Gallun glanced back and forth between the two ships.  "It seems to me that our vessels are equal in their wounds."

"And if we continue as we are, they will be equal piles of junk."

"So, what do you propose?" Gallun asked warily.

"Should we fight this battle to its end, both of us will die, as even the victor's ship will be too damaged to reach port. Even now that may be beyond our capabilities."

"Get to the point, primus."

"The two of us will fight. The victor will take the other's crew captive and enough parts for a safe journey."

"Why would I do that, when I can continue to pummel you with my cannons?"

"Are you listening?  In the time it will take you, my crew can render you incapable of space travel."  Pholius raised his gaze to the bridge of the Supernova, where Gallun's crew stood watching the discussion.

"Very well," Gallun said. "Let us fight."  He roared, and his armor blazed bright. The light lanced towards Pholius's eyes, but his black helm lowered a thin film across the visor for protection.

Gallun , expecting Pholius to be blinded, shot forward with his axe held high for a vicious blow. But eyes covered, Pholius saw only Gallun's unprotected chest, and he thrust his blade at it. The strike failed to pierce Gallun's blazing armor, but sent him spinning away.

Yelling telepathically, Gallun advanced again, this time holding his axe ahead in a low guard. As soon as he neared, Pholius danced forward with a flurry of strikes, his starlight blade flaring with Gallun's axe as they collided.

From the bridge of the Queen Comet, Pholius's crew watched nervously as the two knights filled the space between ships with their battle. Gallun, in his flaming armor, flew around making wild sweeps with his axe, which trailed fire as it went. As a counterpoint, Pholius was nearly invisible in his black armor, so the crew had to look for his bright blade. He allowed Gallun to soar around him, keeping up a patient defense.

The two titans struggled back and forth until suddenly, almost imperceptibly, a mistake was made. Gallun over exaggerated an overhead swing, and Pholius had time to deliver a thrust to his hand. The axe flew from hand and slowly dissipated into embers. Unarmed and overmatched, Gallun could do nothing as Pholius stabbed him through the chest. His flaming armor flickered and faded, leaving his mortal body impaled on a blade of starlight.

Pholius pushed Gallun's body from his sword and let the blade fade from existence. The silence of space was punctured only by his labored breathing.

Seeing the battle was won, the Queen Comet enabled their thrusters, moving to make its conquest of the Supernova. Pholius took his place in front of it, looking every inch the conqueror in his midnight armor with his battleship at his back.

The Supernova lowered its remaining shielding, ready to accept the victors. Gallun would have telepathically informed them of the duel's stakes. The Queen Comet did away with her shields as well, and began extending a bridge to the other vessel's airlock.

The bridge was only halfway across the intervening space when Pholius noticed something wrong. A nearly invisible sheen covered the Supernova. Her shields were back up!  Gallun must have told his crew to attack whether he won or lost. Pholius tried to mentally shout to the officers in his bridge, but he was too late. The cannons on the Supernova blazed to life, and beams lanced through space into the unprotected side of the Queen Comet.

Pholius felt a burst of hot pain and was sent hurtling backwards. Looking down as he spiraled through space, he saw that a laser had sheared through his armor. Cold was already seeping through the wound.

As the Queen Comet was torn apart above him, Pholius stared into dark space, and drew power  from it. As he held the dark energy, he gazed back and forth between his ship and the hole in his armor. He only had so much power to use.

Should he use it to destroy the Supernova?  Even if he did, his men would die a slow, stranded death–their ships was irreparably damaged.  Turning away from the battle above, Pholius touched a black gauntlet to his broken side, and saved himself.

Hunting Heathens

“You shouldn’t be here.”  The words came from behind me, and I froze upon hearing them.  How had I, nervous as I was, not heard anyone approach me?  Fear rose in my chest. If Thul’s minions had found me, then he had found the others, and everything was lost.

“This is Bloodblade territory, and you, my friend, are not a member.”  My assailant pressed his knife firmly into my back.  “The way I see it,” he said, “you have two options. You can hand over some gold for temporary membership, or I can gut you here and now.”

Well, that was a relief. He wasn’t one of Thul’s, and that meant that the knife digging into my back was mortal iron.

“I’m not going to take the first option, so if you would like to gut me, by all means, feel free.”  I turned to face him and he panicked, thrusting the knife deep into my side. The blade slipped through layers of skin and muscle.

“What are you?” he asked. I suppose he was right to ask, but the question surprised me at the time; I had forgotten how mortals reacted to my kind.

“What do you think I am?”

His expression changed from one of fear to one of terror as my flesh, quickly knitting itself back together, expelled his knife from my body. It clattered to the cobblestones, and he stumbled back. Without giving an answer, the would-be thief turned tail and ran.

I put a hand to my side and felt around for a wound. My fingers passed over smooth skin. Normally I would never have checked, but nerves were getting the better of me. Keeping my wits about me, I continued on towards the tavern.

The Brass Bear was a squat, ugly building smashed in between a brothel and a butcher’s, yet I hurried towards it like it was the Gate of Heaven. I kept my head in a swivel as I approached the door. The encounter with the thief had rattled me; not because he had posed a real threat, but because he had been able to sneak up on me. I reached the door without incident.

The taproom was quiet. The patrons had finished their drunken shouting and fallen into an inebriated slumber. The only unimpaired eyes were in the far corner, and they were on me as soon as I stepped into the room. Six pairs, all full of fear and worry and anger.

“There you are, Althis,” Caliun said. The goddess gestured impatiently for me to sit. “We were worried something had happened to you.”

“Nothing I couldn’t handle.”

“So there was something?” Opin asked. He was nervous and twitchy, as he had been since we had been expelled from Heaven. “Thul’s minions? Are they here? Do they know about us?”

I raised a hand to cut him off. “We’re safe here. It was only a thief from one of the local gangs.”

Opin sighed, but didn’t really relax.

“Did he recognize you?” Caliun asked.

I shook my head.

“Then we should be safe.”

“And we can begin to plan our revenge on the being who cast us from Heaven.” The new speaker was Davir, the largest and angriest among us. “Thul must suffer for what he did to us.”

“He will,” Caliun said.  “I have something in mind.”

Whatever she had in mind I never got to hear, because as she leaned in to tell us the tavern door burst open and ten men in black armor stormed in. After a quick scan of the drinker patrons, they approached our table.

“I heard quite the tall tale from a member of a local gang,” said the leader of the group. “He told me that he just met a man who could walk away from a knife in the gut. Have you seen anyone like that?”

Caliun opened her mouth to deny it, but Opin’s reaction was faster. He squeaked and shot a look at me, terrified.

The armored man noted the reaction. “That’s what I thought,” he said, and plunged his sword in Calium’s breast.

I sat there, stunned as Caliun fell to the floor. I was dimly aware of Davir exploding with anger around me, and the other three gods and goddesses leaping into action. All I could focus on was the sword buried to the hilt in Caliun. How was it still there?  Why wasn’t she healing?  Then I noticed the dark metal it had been forged from. Thul had given his men godsteel.

“Get up Althis.”  Davir pulled me to my feet. “Leave Caliun. We have to go.”

The tavern was leveled around us. The floor was littered with dead bodies and the ceiling was nowhere in sight. Eyes locked on Caliun’s body, I allowed Davir to drag me away.

The Titan

My first real attempt at a poem.  I tried to play around with the internal rhyming, and had some fun doing it.  Let me know what you think!

The titan ignites bright lights in the night and

Starts wars and fights everything in his sight then

What catches his eye?

Ten knights who hold high ten swords forged from diamond.

 

Shouts fill the great silence as they the beast frightens.

They duck his rope’s flight as they hope to smite him.

 

The titan ties ten knights then,

And when his great might starts the cord to tighten,

From great height he asks, “Are you ready to die men?”

The Rock-Eaters

When Idorsus finally woke, he found himself less free than he had been in dreaming. The Winged Whale had shattered upon impact with the craggy island, and broken timbers from the splintered ship pressed him body painfully against the uneven stone. He could only move his head.

“Kovin!” he yelled, hoping his first mate was in a better position than he was. If that was the case, and the whole crew had survived, the violent storm may have been a gift. The pirates were hunting the Winged Whale, which now decorated the highest crags of this small island. Assuming no pirates came to search for bodies (and Idorsus was more than willing to assume that), Idorsus would be assumed dead.

So, the only thing between him and freedom were these damned timbers. The planks may have been liftable had Idorsus had a good rest and a good drink, but it had been days since he’d had either, and the storm had sapped his strength.

“Genne!” he yelled. Kovin hadn’t answered, but maybe Genne would. She had been in a safer position that Kovin, who had been vulnerable at the wheel. Had she survived?

Still no answer.

“Durgrum! Twin one! Twin two!” No responses. Idorsus wondered if the twins would have responded if he had ever bothered to learn their names, but decided it didn’t matter.  More likely than not, they were dead. On the bright side, he was spared the awkward conversation where he explained that he didn’t know who was who.

But maybe they were still alive. Idorsus had no way of knowing how big the island was. There was a chance, though a small one, that he had been flung to the top of the crag with the ship, and his crew was even now searching for him.

In either situation, Idorsus decided that he needed to free himself. If help was coming, it would come slowly, and he hated waiting. He began to move his limbs as much as he could, hoping to upset the logs enough for him to slip free.

As Idorsus was trying to wiggle his right arm from beneath a heavy plank, he heard a faint sizzling, followed by a staccato sharp clicking. He stopped moving so as to silence the creaking of the wood, and cocked his ear. Without other noise, he could pinpoint the location of the sound. It was coming from behind him and to the right.

He craned his neck, turning as far as he could. At first, all he could see was the rain-slick grey stones and the brightening sky beyond. Then a small movement drew his gaze, and he could make out a creature the size of a melon not ten feet from his head.

The creature was the same grey as the stone, which is how it had escaped Idorsus’s gaze. And it’s skin didn’t only have color in common with the rocks; it was thick and rough, and seemed to be as hard as the rigid ground that it walked and Idorsus was being crushed against.  The creature was sturdy, with four chubby legs that ended in sharp, spade-like feet. It had a beak that scraped at the ground as Idorsus watched.

That’s where the sizzling and clicking came from. As Idorsus lay pinned, the creature spat a stream of acid onto the stone. The rocks began to melt and soften under the effect of the green liquid, and when it reached a desired state, the creature leaned in and bit off the chunk of rock. Its beak clicked together as it chewed.

The small creature fascinated Idorsus, and he was beginning to be very happy that the storm had tossed them from the sea. Not only had they lost the hunting pirates, but he had discovered this strange animal.

Idorsus whistled at it, then began to clack his teeth together in a poor imitation of the creatures chewing sound. The rock-eater glanced up from its meal. When Idorsus continued his clacking, it began to waddle over.

The rock-eater stopped by Idorsus’s shoulder and plopped back onto its hindquarters.

“Hey little guy,” Idorsus said.

In response, the rock-eater spit a stream of acid dangerously close to Idorsus’s head. It landed on the stone and began to eat away at it.

“Now, now. If you want to spit, please do it on the wood.”

The rock-eater ignored him, following his spit with its beak and taking small bites from the rock. It chewed noisily in his ear.

Somehow over the cacophony of chewing, Idorsus heard heavy footsteps. He looked past the little creature and saw another rock-eater emerge from what he had assumed to be a natural cave, but he now realized had been created with the creatures’ acidic spit.

The second rock-eater was massive. It was still sturdy and thick, but where the little one had fat, the adult had corded muscles. It’s spade-like feet were wickedly sharp, and its beak like a cutlass. At the sight of the little rock-eater by Idorsus, the mother let out a bird-like shriek and spit a torrent of acid.

The acid splashed over the broken planks, and the mother thundered across the stone to get between Idorsus and her baby.  As she backed away with her baby between her legs, Idorsus could feel the load on him lessening as the acid age through the wood.

He moved his arm as soon as he was able, throwing free the beam that had been holding it down. Then he threw free the dissolving wood and scrambled to his feet, clenching his teeth as some of the acid dripped onto his shoulder.

“Idorsus!” From nowhere, Durgrum leapt in front of Idorsus. The huge sailor had somehow kept hold of his warhammer during the shipwreck, and he now held it high. “Get behind me,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.”

“No,” I said, putting a hand on the haft of Durgrum’s hammer and pulling it down. “Leave her be.”

The mother hadn’t spit again, and had made move but to retreat with her young.

Durgrum resisted for a moment, early still threatened, but lowered his hammer and retreated with me.

“Where are the others?” I asked as we picked our way down the crag.

“We split up to look for you.”

I sighed in relief. “So you’re all okay.”

Durgrum nodded. “And ready to get the hell out of here.”

 

This is Part 5.

Click here for Part One//Part Two//Part Three//Part Four

Sudden Storm

The Winged Whale made decent time as it skimmed across the crystal waves of the Javan Sea. The ship’s newest captain, Idorsus Cragfin, was almost annoyed by the pace, but kept reminding himself that she was only being towed by five sets of arms–Durgrum and himself on one side, Genne and the twins on the other. All that considered, it was a wonder they were still going.

Of course, Idorsus had kept his crew in mind when deciding what ship to steal. The Winged Whale had been the only ship in the pirate fleet that might even be moved by five rowers.  Idorsus counted their crawling pace as a victory.

Below decks smelled of damp and mildew. Idorsus had never imagined he would associate those smells with freedom, but now they were sweet in his nostrils. This smelly rowing bench was his way to safety. As he rowed, his eyes burned a hole in the hull. He knew that just through the thick wood were three fully crewed pirate ships, all bearing down on his escaping craft.

“Almost there boys!”

Idorsus could hear Kovin yelling down from the deck. The first mate struggled to make himself heard over the creaking of wood and pounding of waves.

“And girl,” Genne called back.

“Not the time, Genne,” one of the twins growled from behind her, his face twisted up as he pulled on his massive oar.

“We’re almost out of the harbor,” Kovin said. “On my call, make a sharp turn to starboard and get your asses to the deck to work the sails.”

The rowers called up their agreement and returned to their task.  Once out of the harbor, they could hitch a ride on the southern-blowing winds. Their smaller ship could then put some distance between herself and the pirate vessels.

“Three!”

Idorsus pulled steadily; ready to heave for the turn.

“Two!”

Idorsus kept his rhythm.

“One!”

Rough hands tightened around rough wood.

“Pull!”

With roars of effort, Idorsus and Durgrum pulled hard on their oars, bringing the ship swinging starboard. The thick oar creaked and complained under the pressure, but held.

“On course!” Kovin yelled. “Come get the sails!”

Idorsus slid his oar from the sea and racked it before heading above. As he stepped onto the deck, he stepped into a different world than the one he had left. When he had descended below decks, the sun had been out and shining heavily. The wind had been only a soft, warm breeze.

Now, clouds darkened the sky, and cold wind lashed the deck.  Idorsus shivered, half from cold and half with excitement. This new wind would send the Whale speeding towards freedom.

“Looks like a storm’s brewing,” Idorsus said. “Get these sails up and we’ll be gone before the raindrops can hit the deck.”

He was wrong about that, as it turned out. Rain started to fall the sails unfurled and were filled by the driving wind.

“I think this is too much,” Kovin said as Idorsus approached the wheel. “The ship won’t be able to handle it.”

“She’ll do just fine,” Idorsus said, bending over to lovingly pat the deck. “She’s flying right now.”

And she was. The Whale was hurtling southward, racing through the sea. The pirates and the harbor were fading quickly into the distance, obscured by sheets of rain that fell more heavily by the second.

The ship was creaking and straining in the gale, but that didn’t mean anything was wrong. The sails were full and the rain was giving the crew a much needed wash.

“We should bring the sails in!” Durgrum yelled from the prow. “The winds are too strong!”

“You too?  Durgrum, the ship is fine.”

“Listen to him, Idorsus,” Kovin pleaded. “We’ve put enough distance between us and the pirates. We need to find shelter.”

Idorsus mulled it over. He was used to Kovin worrying, but Durgrum usually sided with him against the first mate. That the big sailor had also advised caution gave him pause.

“Alright,” Idorsus said, “bring the sails in. We can find shelter past those rocks.”

The rocks he pointed to were spikes that jutted sharply from the churning surf just off the forested coastline.

“Thank you,” Kovin said, and shouted for the sails to be furled.

But before any orders could be carried out, a gargantuan gust of wind swept across the deck. The sails filled and the mast strained. Then, with an ear-splitting crack, the mast splintered in two and was blown violently into the sea.

“Get to cover!” Idorsus yelled, suddenly scared.  The Winged Whale was thrown off course by the separation of the mast, and was headed straight for the rocky monolith.

Durgrum, Genne, and the twins all found something to grab onto as the rocks loomed closer.

Kovin wrestled with the wheel, but could do nothing, and the ship slammed into the spike of rock.

Idorsus was thrown by the impact, hitting the stump of the mast. His head whipped back, and the storm faded to black.

 

This is Part 4.

Part 1//Part 2//Part 3//Part 5

WHO THE FUCK IS MY DND CHARACTER?

This week, Chuck  over at terribleminds challenged us to use this site to get a character to write about.  I chose to ignore all instructions, so I chose four:

A thoughful halfling barbarian from a broken home who is writing an autobiography.

A positive tiefling rogue from the salt flats who wants to become a famous singer.

An adventurous half-orc rogue from a boarding school for the children of middle-class wizards who is in way too deep with the wrong sort of people.

And a boisterous dwarf bard from a quaint little village on a hill who has anger problems.

Here we go:

The group caught my attention as soon as they stepped through the archway.  We didn’t get many foreigners in the Lofty Ladle, or in the Faelin Forest at all.

The other elves in the inn all looked up in surprise a moment after I had, noticing the odd party as they took their seats at the corner table.

“Get to work.”  A swift kick to the shins sent me hustling off the take the group’s order.  I didn’t even have to check who it was—Laithen, the owner of the inn, was fond of handing out kicks to his workers.

Up close, the party was even more unusual than they had seemed from behind the bar.

Cramped up against the druidcrafted wall of the inn, a large half-orc was trying to sit comfortably.  The tree had been shaped into elf-sized seats, and his bulging muscles stuck out into his neighbor’s space.

Luckily for him, his neighbor was a halfling who was too small and too engrossed in a book to care.  Propped up against the halfling’s seat was an axe nearly his height.

“Would you mind putting your axe elsewhere, sir?  We don’t want to damage the tree.”  I directed the question to the half-orc, which I thought was perfectly reasonable.

The orc seemed to agree, as he leaned over the halfling to grab the axe, but the third member of the group, a fire-haired dwarf, leaped to his feet.  His height didn’t change noticeably as he left his feet.

“So you think every half-orc is a axe-toting savage, do you?”  His face was almost as red as his hair.  “Gromsk over here is a rogue, and a refined one at that!”

“I’m sorry, sir,” I stammered.  The dwarf’s reaction was extreme.  Sure, I had made an assumption, but it had been an innocent one.

“And you think that Arren can’t wield an axe?  My halfling friend is one of the most feared warriors this side of the Westernach!”

“Leave the poor boy alone, Eberk.”  A tiefling woman, the final member of the party, stepped in front of the fiery dwarf, quelling his tirade.  She flashed me a winning smile, her teeth stars against her purple skin.

“You must forgive Eberk,” she said, “he often gets quite agitated over the smallest of things.  The unfamiliarity of your city has him quite on edge.  Dwarves, generally speaking, stay away from trees.”

“’Cause they’re usually full of birds, bugs and elves, “ Eberk muttered.  “Nasty buggers, the lot.”

Gromsk kicked him under the table.

“Ignore the dwarf.”  The tiefling extended her hand.  “My name is Larinea.”

She shook my hand as I offered it, and then took her seat.  Eberk was grumbling to Gromsk as Arren continued to write in his small book.  His axe now sat across his knees, I noticed appreciatively.

“Nice to meet you,” I said.  “Is there any way I can help you?  Food?  Drinks?  Lodging?”

“We would like all three,” Larinea said, “but we lack the coin for any of them.”

“Then I’m afraid I cannot offer you any of them.”

She held up a hand.  “We would like to make a trade.  Eberk here a preeminent dwarven bard, and I am a passable singer myself.  A performance should bring you business enough to cover our cost.”

“I’d have to check with the owner,” I said, skeptical.  I didn’t even know dwarves had bards, and one performance was unlikely to cover the costs of four rooms and meals, especially if Gromsk ate as much as I thought he might.

“Please do,” Larinea said, “and tell them if we fail to impress, we will pay double with scullery work.”

***

Laithen had grudgingly agreed to Larinea’s proposal, and after grumbling around the kitchen about “beggars”, he sent me around town to tell the other elves about the performance.

Now, I sat with Gromsk and Arren at the corner table.  I had joined them when my shift ended.

“What are you writing?” I asked the halfling.  Throughout our meal, he had stayed focused on his small book while Gromsk and I talked.

Arren draped a small ribbon over his page and closed the small book.  “It’s an account of my journey,” he said.  “I hope that one day my children and my children’s children will know my life and the lessons it has given me.”

Gromsk laughed.  “And that the humans in the Westernach will print it for you,” he said; then to me, “He wants to be famous as much as Larinea does.”

“And how much is that?” I asked.

“Enough to pretend not to have coin for the chance to perform at every inn we come across.”

I nearly choked on my mutton.

Arren pointed to a small raised stage across the room where Larinea and Eberk stood.  “It would be a shame to miss the performance after all that.”

Eberk set a small drum on the stage and tapped a very particular beat on it.  As he did, it began to glow, and expanded into a large array of different drums.

“I stole that from a carnival for him,” Gromsk said proudly.

Eberk began to play his strange drum array, hitting them with long wooden sticks and using a contraption down near his feet.  He beat out a slow, rolling rhythm as Larinea began to sing.

She had a beautiful voice, one more suited for a hall than a tavern, and it swept through the room.  The patrons all turned to listen, many forgetting their meals as they were ensnared by the soaring voice and mesmerizing drums.

As the performance continued, Eberk upped his energy, switching to a driving, intense beat.  At one point he even left his drums behind, instead jumping onto tables and pounding any flat surface with his sticks.

It was during this part of the act, when the tavern was full and the patrons were cheering loudly, that six men stepped quietly through the door.  I would never have noticed them if not for Gromsk, who gasped and tensed up as the entered.

They looked like trouble, with black armor and long blades, but Gromsk calmly handed Arren his axe.  “Carten Vong,” he whispered.  “Six at the door.”

“Blend in,” the halfling said.  “I’ll greet them.”

Gromsk shrunk back against the foliage of the wall, his grey-green skin masking him in the darkness, and Arren strode towards the door.

“What is going on?” I asked, keeping my voice low.

“I may or may not owe the Carten Vong a bit of money.”  Gromsk’s face was indistinguishable among the shadow.

“How much is a bit?”

“A few hundred gold.”

Across the room, Arren was talking to the leader of the Vong.  Their conversation seemed to rise in tension until the armored man drew his sword and tried to stab him.

“Big mistake,” Gromsk muttered.

Arren ducked the thrust and brought his axe in a sweeping crescent, decapitating the man instantly.  He leaped among the group, yelling at the top of his tiny lungs, and laid about with his axe, shearing through skin and sinew.

Some of the patrons began to take notice of the fight, but Eberk leaped onto the bar and began drumming on the bottles of ale while shaking his ass at Laithen.  Naturally, the refocused their attention.

Arren dispatched all six of the Carten Vong with ease, and Gromsk appeared at his side to help him clean up.  That shocked me, as I hadn’t even noticed the big half-orc leave the table.

They slunk back to the table just as Eberk returned to his drums and the inn erupted into applause.

“Do you think your boss will charge us for that little fiasco?” Gromsk asked.

I shook my head.  “He’ll be happy to overlook it—especially after you drummed up all this business.”  I raised an eyebrow in expectation.

Arren groaned and shook his head in disgust.  “Let’s all agree to leave the puns to the bard, please.”

Burning Harbor

Idorsus Cragfin watched with horror as the scarred pirate tossed the torch underhand and it flew, trailing smoke and dripping tar, across the deck the Merry Mollusk, where it landed amid the vessel’s powder barrels. Time stood still as the flame licked at the barrels, then his world exploded into a fiery maelstrom.
The force of the blast hurled him over the railing, and he landed hard on the rough wood of the dock. Burning timber dropped around him as he pushed himself to his knees and pulled the splinter from his bleeding forearms. He turned to see the damage.
The scarred pirate hadn’t survived, Cragfin decided. Of course, nothing else had either, but he liked to focus on the positive. That meant looking past the fact that his ship was a blazing pyre, the flames licking at the night sky. At least the scarred pirate was getting a funeral pyre. His family would probably be happy about that.
The Merry Mollusk wasn’t the only blazing ship in the harbor. Almost the entirety of the northern docks were aflame, and the fire was spreading was spreading.
“Captain!” Cragfin’s first mate, Kovin Drake, was running towards him, the fire reflecting off his bare sword.
Kovin was a slight, wiry man with hair short short and uneven. His face stuck in a permanent frown, but it was even deeper now. “The pirates are pushing south into the city!” he yelled. Cragfin could barely hear him over the ringing in his ears.
“Where are they exactly?” he asked. He thought he must be yelling.
Kovin gestured with his sword. “They’re pushing through the Iron Quarter.”
“And the crew?” Cragfin had given his crew the night off to entertain themselves along the waterfront. He had stayed behind to go over the ship’s ledgers, which were now ashes. He may have just lost a fortune, but at least he had less work to do.
“I pulled them out of the closest alehouses and tried to smack the drink from them,” Kovin said. “They aren’t in prime shape, but they should be able to fight.”
“Good.” Cragfin had made a good hire with Kovin. The man was extremely useful; it almost took his mind off the hundreds of thousands of dragons worth of deals that had just gone up in smoke. “Onward, my good sir.”
Kovin led him though the burning waterfront and into the Iron Quarter. The houses were built close together, but Cragfin kept his sense of direction in the warren of alleys by keeping the burning harbor at his back.
Before long, Cragfin began to hear the sounds of battle. He stepped ahead of Kovin and turned a corner into a melee, drawing a massive broadsword as he did.
The pirates were fighting a group of guards and sailors in the Steel Square, lantern-light flashing off their blades as they traded blows around the Crystal Fountain.
That was something to seize upon. The square was slick with blood and strewn with bodies, but the fountain itself was beautiful. Water ran from the maw of a marble dragon and trickled over shinestone. The shinestone, which had been created by some wealthy alchemist, cast light through the water and gave it a glassy sheen.
If he hadn’t needed to fight, Cragfin could have watched the fountain all night, but duty forced him to strike at the nearest pirate with a wide sweep of his broadsword. The pirate fell in a spray of blood, and Cragfin ran to his next foe.
The arrival of Cragfin and Kovin lent energy to the sailors, and Cragfin’s crew began to make short work of the pirates. Genne Porter spun through the fray, her daggers flashing, and Durgum Wurs waded after her, laying about with his massive hammer. The twins fought back to back, and even the Iron Guard redoubled their efforts. It wasn’t long before the final three pirates fled the square.
Cragfin sped after them, with Kovin close behind him. Cragfin’s hearing was mostly back, and he thought he heard the first mate call for the crew to follow. Either he was imagining it, or his sailors were still too drunk to follow orders, because when he reentered the alleys around the square, only Kovin was with him.
As he ran, Cragfin noticed that the pirates were fleeing east , which was odd. The pirates’ ships were to the north, where their attack had come from. If it hadn’t been for the constant light of the burning harbor to his left, he would have thought himself mistaken.
“Where the hell are they going?” Kovin asked as they ran.
“No idea!” The Iron Quarter was already on the northeastern side of the island. The only thing to the east were coastal bluffs and a few small inlets.
Cragfin burst from the Quater and onto the bluffs. The fleeing pirates were less than thirty yards ahead, easily within reach, but he came to a sudden stop.
Kovin almost crashed into his back, but managed to stop in time. “Why are we-” his jaw dropped. “Oh shit.”
Moving stealthily towards the cliffs was a black fleet, nearly invisible against the dark sea. The attack on the harbor had merely been a diversion. This new fleet was twice as large as the crown could muster on short notice.
“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” Kovin was muttering.
Even Cragfin struggled to find a bright side.

 

This is Part 1.

Part 2//Part 3//Part 4//Part 5